SAN FRANCISCO ●Attractions●Neighborhoods/Shopping
Pier 39 Beach St./The Embarcadero.
This popular spot offers myriad diversions in addition to more than 110 shops and 12 restaurants. Among the boutiques is one that specializes in puppets, another in chocolate, and another in items for left-handers, and the California Welcome Center dispenses free visitor information.
Street performers entertain daily. The Riptide Arcade is packed with cutting-edge video games and located at the bay end next to a contemporary two-tiered carousel that is hand-painted with famous San Francisco landmarks and trimmed with 1,800 lights. Also here is the Turbo Ride 4-D Experience--a simulated thrill ride that synchronizes hydraulically powered seats to the action on a giant movie screen.
Sea lions have taken up permanent residence on the west side of the pier and are seen there basking, barking, and belching on floating docks.
Live sea lion webcam.
Aquarium of the Bay transports visitors through a long transparent acrylic tunnel via a moving sidewalk for a diver’s-eye view of the fishes, sharks, and other sea life residing in San Francisco Bay.
Each year in February, Tulipmania displays approximately 39,000 tulips throughout the pier. These harbingers of spring are a lot of work to grow here, because in this climate fresh bulbs must be planted each year. Free tours are scheduled.
Restaurant menu boards are posted around the pier, providing a chance to analyze offerings and prices. These are among them:
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The second link in the chain licensed by Paramount Pictures (the first is in Monterey), this theme restaurant is based on the shrimping scenes in the movie Forrest Gump. It resembles a seafood shack. Not surprisingly, the menu has many shrimp selections, most of them deep-fried, as well as fresh fish entrees and baby back ribs. The bar serves up fun drinks, including several kinds of margaritas (the Delta Sunset is particularly tasty) and some non-alcoholic, good-for-you drinks--a peanutty-chocolate Alabama Sweet Smoothie and a frothy pink Run Forrest Run. Dessert should, of course, be a box of chocolates, and that is an option. As a bonus, magnificent views of the bay are enjoyed from most tables. An adjacent shop sells everything Gump. (Winston Groom lived in San Francisco when he wrote Forrest Gump--the book. In fact, he named the main character after this city’s famous department store.)
Eagle Cafe Situated at the pier entrance, this casual spot dates from 1920--when it was located across the street. The menu offers hearty breakfasts (think pancakes stacked high and Bloody Marys) and a standout meatloaf sandwich at lunch (the corned beef hash is also popular), and strong drinks are always poured at the antique bar. I want to try the thick Crabby Mary made with Dungeness crab and served with a spoon.
Fog Harbor Fish House You can rest easy and fully enjoy your meal here because all seafood on the menu is sustainable. Located near the pier entrance, the expansive white-tablecloth dining room offers bay views from most seats, which come in the form of window-side tables and raised booths (both regular and half-moon). We started with a cup of clam chowder (also available in a sourdough bread bowl) and an iceberg lettuce wedge topped with Pt. Reyes blue cheese dressing. Addictive Boudin sourdough bread is freshly baked in-house. Entrée choices include everything from wild salmon to whole Dungeness crab to fresh lobster, but my heart said fried shrimp with thin french fries and a tangy coleslaw with horseradish dressing. My husband bibbed up and dove into a massive seafood cioppino. Steaks and pastas are also options. Our drinks of choice were a yummy Alcatraz Escape cocktail for me (coconut and dark rums mixed with orange and pineapple juices and some grenadine) and a tasty Oregon Pinot Noir from RouteStock for my mate. Desserts are housemade and samples are brought out on a tray to contemplate—hmmm, should we have a heavy one (bread pudding topped with ice cream) or a light one (raspberry sorbet)? And all the while we enjoyed watching the changing light of the evening view.
Forbes Island At Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf. After the short 5-minute voyage over to the world’s only floating island, owner/host Forbes Thor Kiddoo conducts a short tour. He provides a quick glimpse of a replica 40-foot lighthouse and of some real sand and palm trees, then it’s down the steps to the partially submerged, oriental-carpeted dining room decorated with antique nautical artifacts and paintings. The smallish menu--a selection of California cuisine with a French twist--is prepared in a tiny galley and includes an excellent Caesar salad, a divine rack of lamb with 2-inch-thick chops, and a very French apple tarte tatin. For a romantic occasion, consider requesting the single teeny table in the diminutive wine cellar. Cigars can be enjoyed outside overlooking the sea lions basking on nearby docks. And don’t miss seeing the women’s lounge.
Hard Rock Cafe On Beach St., at Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf. Sitting in one of the roomy booths here allows first-rate people watching. Wall decorations include George Harrison’s and Pete Townsend’s guitars, Grateful Dead stuff, and a large Fillmore poster collection. And, as might be expected from the name, rock & roll is played non-stop. The American-style food is quite good, the service attentive, and the prices reasonable. The house salad is crisp, cold romaine lettuce, and the housemade Thousand Island dressing is tangy with fresh onion. Hamburgers are served on whole-wheat sesame buns and are just plain good. The menu also offers an assortment of sandwiches, housemade chili, grilled fresh fish, and rich, old-fashioned desserts. A plethora of souvenir items can be ordered at the table and added to the tab.
Neptune’s Palace At Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf. Situated at the far end of the pier, this airy spot stands out with a magnificent bay view of Alcatraz and a seafood menu featuring a rich clam chowder and a selection of dishes prepared with mussels, shrimp, and lobster.
A companion facility, the adjacent, more casual Sea Lion Cafe, offers a simple menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches as well as fresh seafood, plus it has a great view of the sea lions.
Wipeout Bar & Grill Located near the pier entrance, this place gets busier as the day moves on. It features a fire pit and large seating area outside, where you can watch the throngs go by while you chow down to surf music. Choice items include garlic fries, onion rings, clam chowder, a bacon-guacamole California burger, and of course, tacos, burritos, and pizza. All seafood on the menu is sustainable. Many people stop to refresh on nachos and one of their signature 23-ounce cocktails. We came for breakfast, when it is just beginning to warm up and so a lot quieter, and we sat inside amid the TV sports bar atmosphere. My husband had the California Breakfast with eggs over easy, and though he prefers his potato wedges crisper, he cleaned his plate. My chorizo-cheese scramble with sourdough toast was also tasty, and portions were substantial enough to see us through to dinner.